Iran Nuclear NewsIran Fails to Fulfill Nuclear Pledge

Iran Fails to Fulfill Nuclear Pledge

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Los Angeles Times: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Thursday that Iran had stopped short of meeting its pledge to halt all nuclear enrichment by insisting on a last-minute exemption for some activities. The European-brokered deal for Iran to halt all enrichment threatened to founder when the U.N. atomic watchdog agency’s governing board met here to review Iran’s nuclear program. Los Angeles Times

Tehran is insisting on an exemption to halting all enrichment activities, U.N. agency confirms

By Sonya Yee

VIENNA – The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Thursday that Iran had stopped short of meeting its pledge to halt all nuclear enrichment by insisting on a last-minute exemption for some activities.

The European-brokered deal for Iran to halt all enrichment threatened to founder when the U.N. atomic watchdog agency’s governing board met here to review Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have completed our work with regard to verification of the suspension with … one exception, and that is the request by Iran to exempt 20 centrifuges” for research and development, said Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency’s director.

Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium for power generation or, if the uranium is highly enriched, for nuclear weapons.

Iran, after an intense series of negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, agreed in mid-November to suspend all aspects of its enrichment program in exchange for trade incentives and assistance with peaceful nuclear technologies.

The deal, which came into effect just three days before the IAEA board meeting, was seen as a way for Iran to avoid referral to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face economic sanctions.

Iran now says that it wants to operate the 20 centrifuges without nuclear materials and claims that the move would not violate the agreement.

The Europeans have rejected the demand as unacceptable. ElBaradei said at the start of the 35-nation board meeting that he hoped the centrifuge dispute would “resolve itself within the next 24 hours or so.”

Negotiations over the board’s resolution outlining the terms of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA will continue today. But the option of referring Iran to the Security Council is likely to remain off the table.

Nevertheless, the dispute has done little to quell suspicions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, particularly as it follows reports that Iran ramped up uranium conversion activities — the precursor to enrichment — ahead of last Monday’s suspension.

Iran promised to halt enrichment activities in a similar agreement with the three European nations last year, but that deal collapsed just months later.

The United States maintains that Iran is using its energy program to hide efforts to produce nuclear weapons, and has repeatedly called on the IAEA board to refer Iran to the Security Council.

That step was also advocated Thursday by supporters of the Iranian exile group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, who demonstrated outside IAEA headquarters during the board’s morning session.

Iran has continued to insist on its sovereign right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and there has been little support for the U.S. position among the IAEA governing board members.

ElBaradei, who submitted a comprehensive report on the agency’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear program to the board, has also given a largely positive report on Iranian cooperation.

In his opening statement, ElBaradei said that although earlier work was “constrained by Iran’s policy of concealment, misleading information and delays in access,” the country has since facilitated agency investigations “in a timely manner.”

He said that the agency had verified that Iranian nuclear materials had been accounted for and had not been diverted to prohibited uses, although he cautioned that it could not rule out covert activities.

“We still have a lot of work to do with regard to possible undeclared material or activities,” ElBaradei told reporters, adding that it was “a long-term process.”

The governing board, meanwhile, postponed ruling on South Korea’s nuclear activities, which are viewed with less concern than Iran’s but had been conducted in secret for two decades in violation of nonproliferation agreements.

The issue has also taken on added significance in light of the United States’ hard-line stance on Iranian, as well as North Korean, nuclear ambitions. A failure to refer South Korea, a close U.S. ally, to the Security Council could be seen as proof that a double standard exists.

South Korea is anxious to avoid referral and lobbied board members ahead of the meeting. After Thursday’s session, Choi Young Jin, South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, indicated that the board would not send the country to the Security Council.

“No country has spoken in favor of referring,” he told reporters. The governing board planned to continue discussion of the matter at a session today.

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